'The Mother of Tears" is silly, awkward, vulgar, outlandish, hysterical, inventive, revolting, flamboyant, titillating, ridiculous, mischievous, uproarious, cheap, priceless, tasteless and sublime. And that's before the evil monkeys and sniggering Japanese harpies start running amok. By the time it gets to the diabolical subterranean soft-core orgies, this lunatic B-movie extravaganza has long since defied description and dazzled every irreverent, gore-hungry synapse in the brain.
The premise is utter, magnificent nonsense. Asia Argento stars as Sarah, an art restorer who uncorks evil from an ancient relic and inadvertently ushers in the second fall of Rome: riots, road rage, suicide, the spontaneous chucking of infants off bridges, and frequent eruptions of cruddy effects and the supernatural bizarre. Pursued by a coven of witches apparently transported from a second-rate goth-pop music video from 1985, Sarah encounters a number of fabulous freaks (zombies, psychic lesbians, babbling priests) before facing off with Mater Lacrimarum (Moran Atias), the Mother of Tears herself.
Some will say this latest feature by the celebrated Italian art-schlock purveyor Dario Argento, Asia Argento's father, marks a sad decline in the talents of a supremely confident craftsman. Nonsense; it may be the most entertaining movie of his career. Not the most disciplined. Far from the scariest. (OK, not even remotely scary.) And technically not on a par with a sexploitation suavity like "Suspiria" (beware the Mother of Sighs!), his acknowledged 1977 masterpiece, or "Inferno," its pseudo-sequel (behold the Mother of Darkness!), from 1980.
Rougher, looser and decidedly more bonkers than those eminently bonkers predecessors, the new film joins them in a trilogy concerned with a threesome of "Mother" witches. As "Tears" has made its way on the festival circuit, certain fans of classic Argento -- they are legion and persnickety -- have pooh-poohed it for its clumsiness and seeming amateurism, having perhaps forgotten that its auteur has always been a lousy writer and indifferent director of actors, placing all his faith in the picture-making side of things.
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It's true that "The Mother of Tears," strictly as visual storytelling, suffers by comparison with the first and second Mother movies, or one of Argento's better baroque thrillers, like "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage." But it does something as well as, if not better than, anything in his oeuvre: it goes all the way. Giddy with gonzo, headlong abandon, the movie pushes further and further into unhinged camp dementia until it climaxes with an apocalyptic tableau that perfectly summarizes its visionary kitsch and delirious kick.
There's a defiant late-period wooziness here, an infectious aura of play and pleasure and unembarrassed showmanship from an artist quite happy to amuse himself with scenes of nubile archaeologists being strangled by their own large intestines.
For her part Asia Argento, who has lately shown herself among the most fearless and talented actors of her generation, romps through "Mother" with a curious mix of ambivalence and duty perfectly suited to the movie's mad oscillation between lurid farce and unabashed love.
We eagerly await your unholy arrival, O Fourth Mother!